Challenges and triumphs of conducting field research as a woman

Lancaster

Eve Bratman (Credit: Adam “Fuzzy” Konner)

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Eve Bratman, assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall College, was giving a talk in Brazil to celebrate the launch of her book “Governing the Rainforest: Sustainable Development Politics in the Brazilian Amazon” when her one-year-old child started to cry.

“As kiddo starts screaming in the middle of my talk, I try desperately to keep my composure,” says Bratman, who was traveling alone with her child. “In the middle of my talk, I take them into my arms and give them what they wanted, which was to breastfeed.”

Bratman followed her motherly instincts, she says, and then people in the audience started taking photographs. She worried that she had breached some kind of social boundary.

“And they all said, ‘No!’ In fact, they were delighted to see it happening because to them, this symbolized the height of what it meant to be a woman at the sort of pinnacle of achievement of being a scholar and at the same time being a mother,” Bratman says.

In addition to teaching at Franklin & Marshall College, Bratman is a political ecologist, conducting research that is a combination of anthropology, human geography, political science and the study of social movements.

She has conducted years of research on the sustainable development politics of conservation in the Brazilian Amazon, leading to the publication of the book she was launching in Brazil. More recently, Bratman is studying the politics involved in protecting pollinators. This involves conducting field research in locations around the world, from her own backyard to the European Union to the Yucatán Peninsula and more.

(Credit: Adam “Fuzzy” Konner)

Bratman says that in her roles both as a mother and as a researcher, she is committed to giving. “I think about my role as a mother as centrally being about giving,” says Bratman, and in her research, she believes “it’s important to give back, too.” She says, “Much of my work is about being in solidarity and being of service to the community.”

As a woman working with people of all genders in places all around the world, Bratman has encountered some challenges. For one thing, “Mansplaining is certainly, in my observation, oftentimes one of those cultural constants,” she jokes.

And in some male-dominated political spaces, Bratman says, “It’s not uncommon for a degree of sexual harassment to infuse people’s way of relating,” which can be especially difficult to confront as a researcher working alone.

However, Bratman has not been deterred by these challenges. She has cared about the environment and enjoyed adventure from a young age, she says. Now she follows her curiosity wherever it leads.

Bratman encourages other women interested in doing research like hers to be fearless. “It takes courage to have adventures and to be at the cutting edge of your discipline,” she says, “And my advice is that, in my own experience, it’s well worth it.”

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